HOUSTON – A judge decided Friday that the name of a convicted felon running for Houston City Council will remain on the ballot for the December runoff election.
Renee Jefferson-Smith came in third place in the District B election, behind Cynthia Bailey – who is a convicted felon.
As KPRC 2 first reported, Bailey faced scrutiny over a felony conviction in her past Jefferson-Smith contends should have prevented her from running for office in the first place. According to an election application obtained by KPRC 2, Bailey signed a sworn affidavit that she had not been convicted of a felony. However, Harris County court records show Bailey pleaded guilty to felony theft charges in 2007. Texas law appears to bar convicted felons from holding elected office.
Bailey refused to drop out of the race, so Jefferson-Smith filed a lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order and injunction to have Bailey's name taken off the December ballot and her name added.
Bailey contends that since she served her full sentence, under Texas law, her voting rights and her right to run for elected office were restored. Jefferson-Smith's attorney, Nicole Bates, told KPRC 2 that is incorrect and that under Texas law only Bailey's voting rights were restored after she completed her sentence.
"What we're saying is the court does have an ability to make some type of determination," said Bailey's attorney, Oliver Brown. "However, this is not the proper individual to bring it. It should've been brought in by the city of Houston or the state of Texas as it outlined within the code. "So she doesn't have a standing to do this."
Bates, of course, sees it as cut and dry in her client's favor.
"This case is pretty straightforward," Bates said. "It should be whether or not Ms. Bailey is eligible to seek and hold public office. It's pretty simple, and as an ex-felon you're not eligible to either seek or hold public office. That's a short and sweet of it."
However, Friday morning the judge overseeing the case ruled in bailey's favor because Jefferson-Smith's attorney couldn't prove her case.
The Texas Attorney General's Office was asked to rule on this exact question in May of 2019. The Webb County Attorney's Office asked the AG, "whether individuals convicted of a felony are eligible to run for office in this state after completing their sentence and having their voting rights restored."
The AG's Office responding by quoting two sections of the State Election Code. In the AG's response letter it is noted the election code reads a person with a final felony conviction on their record cannot run for office unless "pardoned or otherwise released from resulting disabilities." The AG's letter further reads a restoration of voting rights "does not restore his or her eligibility to hold public office."
Bailey is set to face off against Tarsha Jackson in the District B runoff.
Jefferson-Smith will now file a permanent injunction, but it's unclear when a judge could make a ruling on it.
According to her attorney, the county and the city will now likely take action because the constitution supersedes the city charter, which does not mention that you cannot be a convicted felon.